The best therapy for grief is time and community. We humans have been dealing with death since we began, and every culture, every clan, every family, has created some kind of ritual.
For example some cultures still throw spears over the body to ward off spirits.
In our culture, homes from a more rural time were built with a "death room" included, and when a village member died, the village participated in the ritual, the wake, and the funeral, and the bereaved wore black to symbolize their grief, which meant in part that they were going to withdraw from the normal village transactions for awhile.
I think it is interesting to read of the evolving funeral industry from its ancient roots, and also the evolving interest of my profession in grief and the grieving process.
By the way, grief does not always deal with just human death. We grieve pets, possessions, marriages, ideas, ideals, traditions, anything important to us which is gone suddenly.
I remember from my own youth, very young in the early 1950's, our family car, which was one of the first models available after WWII, burned in the barn on our farm, and how my parents wept.
The car was important for my Dad to get to and from work, and it represented upwardly mobile success for my parents also, and the setback was hard to take.
Fast forward a few decades, to when I began working in the addictions field, and becoming amazed at what intense pain often lay under or within addictions.
So grieving and grief therapy became an informal part of the addiction recovery process.
Men spoke of physical abuse, women spoke of sexual abuse, as a rule of thumb, the point being that many addicts experienced a betrayal of trust at the hands of family members, and had there been grief therapy available, perhaps the pain could have been cleared more effectively.
The purpose of grief I believe is to clear away the wreckage of the old, so that the new can grow, and if we do not process grief effectively, it is very difficult to trust in closeness or relationship.
Grief is like the winter of emotional life, and necessary for the spring and rebirth.
However we humans can get stuck in our grief, and it is then that perhaps a grief therapist is necessary for us to let go and move on.
I have been to many experiential workshops, holotropic breathwork, New Warrior Adventure Weekends, where folks have opened the door to unfinished grief from decades prior, from veterans working on survival guilt, or father's grieving the loss of sons and daughters, children grieving the loss of parents to death, or addiction, and the healing from that grief therapy process can be profound, when the folks involved in the community trust in the sacredness of the work.
In my own anger management and domestic violence programs, I routinely have clients who tap into a deep pain around a loss, and I need to have a model for them to make sense of what is happening.
A great model for that kind of grief therapy is psychodrama, but what we counselor's call "set and setting" is integral to safety and trust, and psychodrama may not be appropriate for an educational class or workshop.
There are other models for dealing with complicated grief, or disenfranchised grief, for example, which are aspects of grief being delineated in more current research on grief therapy.
The first model of grief that I came across in my professional development was the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross model, with its five stages, denial, bargaining, anger, tears, and acceptance, and it has proven to be very useful in letting folks know there is a rhyme and reason to their experience.
Just knowing that they are not "going crazy" is a relief, and the relationship between anger and sadness is a very important piece of what I teach my anger management and domestic violence classes, so that they can be aware that anger is a great way to get out of a vulnerable feeling state, but anger, like all emotions, demands an action which will of course be different than tears, with its own consequences.
Of course, acceptance is what all of us are striving for, that day when I wake up and think of my loss and do not experience that intense feeling, maybe a bit of nostalgia or melancholy, but then I get on with the business of living a life that respects the memory of the dear departed.
Very early in my personal growth experience, a wise person taught me to use the phrase "gratitude is the attitude" when I was resentful or afraid and that phrase has helped me feel better tens of thousands of times.
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